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The Strategy Room

Responding to a Public Tragedy

By: Cara Greene

Responding to a Public Tragedy: Orlando Shootings

The horrific attack that took place in Orlando on Sunday has elicited responses from around the globe expressing support and solidarity with all those affected.

As public relations professionals, we understand that reactions showing support in the wake of tragedy are not an opportunity for self promotion. An example of how unseemly that can appear is recounted in a piece by a Washington Post reporter who received story pitches tied to Robin Williams’ tragic death.

Reactions and gestures in a time of mourning should demonstrate support, selflessness, and empathy, and we’re seeing many examples of that from heads of state, organizations and corporations.

For example, Paris officials on Monday night lighted the Eiffel Tower in rainbow colors and depicted the American flag. The spire of One World Trade Center also was illuminated in rainbow colors, while the Empire State Building was uncharacteristically dark.

At the 70th Tony Awards on Sunday evening, “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda delivered a tearful sonnet during his acceptance speech paying tribute to the victims. He followed it with the hashtag #LoveIsLove, which was re-tweeted over 1.9 million times in 24 hours.

Facebook activated the “Safety Check” feature for the first time, which allows users to notify others that they are safe in the wake of a disaster.

JetBlue is providing free flights to loved ones of the victims to and from Orlando and communicating it with #WeStandWithOrlando.

Twelve dogs and 20 volunteers from The Lutheran Church Charities Comfort Dogs arrived in Orlando on Monday. The dogs have been at the scene of countless acts of violence including the Sandy Hook shooting and Boston Marathon bombing.

Perhaps the most notable corporate action so far has been by Chick-Fil-A, which in 2012 drew criticism for the owner’s stance on gay marriage. Employees opened a local restaurant in Orlando on Sunday (when they are normally closed) to serve warm meals to first responders, blood donors, and other volunteers. The company was modest about the act, stating “We do not think this requires any recognition. It is the least we can do in this community we love.”

As a New Yorker, I’m reminded of a quote by Mayor Giuliani on the ten year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers:

“The lesson of 9/11 is that America is truly exceptional. We withstood the worst attack of our history, intended by our enemies to destroy us. Instead, it drew us closer and made us more united. Our love for freedom and one another has given us a strength that surprised even ourselves.”

And that is what all these responses have in common — the potential to bring us closer and make us more united, placing the needs of those suffering the greatest at this moment ahead of all else.




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